Helpful Tips

Tips From a Dressage Judge: 2022 USEF Beginner Novice Test A

View and print the 2022 USEF Beginner Novice Test A here:

The tips in this post are from a Dressage Test Playbook in the Ride iQ mobile app.

Meet the judge, Peter Gray

Peter is a renowned dressage judge and has judged at some of the world's most prestigious events including the 2022 World Eventing Championships in Italy. He has been to the Olympics Games as both an event rider and as a team coach. Peter is ICP Level IV certified and he is a Ride iQ coach.

Dressage rider Peter Gray rides a bay horse down centerline

Before you enter the arena

Go around the arena counter-clockwise. This will help get the horse supple and ready to track left.

1. [A-X-M] Enter working trot, [M] Track left

  • Include a little bending over [X] to the right, then in the corner between [M] and [C], change the bend.
  • Don’t go too deep into the corner.
  • Show your horse’s suppleness, especially when you're right in front of the judge.

2. [C] Circle left 20m, working trot

  • Judges will look for an even tempo, accepting of the contact confidently, and a consistent bend to the left throughout the circle.

3. [E] Half circle left 20m, [Between the centerline and B] Left lead canter

  • Pick up the canter close to the centerline so you have time to correct your lead if needed. If you pick up the wrong lead closer to [B], you will get demerits for both movements.

4. [B] Circle left 20m, working canter

  • Show balance and an evenness of the tempo.

5. [Between B and M] Working trot

  • Make this trot transition closer to [M] because the approach of the short side will help back your horse off and slow down, which will avoid him getting against the contact.

6. [H-X-F] Change rein working trot

  • This is one of the few movements with no bend or flexion. Instead, you want equal contact with both hands and legs across the diagonal.
  • Aim a little to the left of [F] to avoid boxing yourself in the corner.

7. [A] Circle right 20m, working trot

  • Again, you want even tempo and consistent bend just like when you did this to the left.

8. [E] Half circle right 20m, [Between centerline and B] Working canter right lead

  • Again, make this canter transition closer to the centerline than to [B].

9. [B] Circle right 20m, working canter

✍️ TAKE NOTE: You will receive a separate score for the transition (the previous movement) and the circle (this movement).

A lower level dressage horse and rider canter during a dressage test

10. [Between B-F] Working trot

  • Make this transition closer to [B] so your horse is aware of the approach of the short side and will be encouraged to balance back to the trot.

11. [Between A and K] Medium walk

  • Make this transition in the corner between [A] and [ K] when your horse has maximum bend.
  • Free walk follows this, so make sure you are ready to distinguish the two in the level of your horse’s poll.
"Since the medium walk is followed by the free walk, let's make a nice difference for the judge in the levelness of the poll. At this level, we don't refer to it being 'uphill', but for medium walk between [A] and [K], let's keep the poll higher than the withers, and at the free walk, have the poll lower than the withers." -PG

12. [K-X-M] Free walk

  • In the free walk, keep the poll lower than the withers.
  • Again, aim slightly to the right of [M].
  • Keep your horse straight in the head and neck.
  • You want your horse seeking the contact down and forward, keeping a light feel.

13. [Between M and C] Develop medium Walk

  • Do this transition in the middle of the corner.
  • Instead of going deep in the corner, round it off with bend.
"Rounding the corner with bend should give you an opportunity to make this transition and avoid your horse coming against the hand and resisting." -PG

14. [H] Working trot, [A] Down centerline

  • This transition will come up very quickly if you haven't practiced the test. The previous movement calls for a very little amount of walk before you transition back to trot.
  • Prepare for this transition in the corner between [C] and [H].
  • As your horse’s shoulder passes the letter [H], you should be making your first step of trot.
  • Ride your turn like a [K] half 10m circle to the left onto the centerline. Riding it this way will show fluency and suppleness.

⚠️ WARNING: It is common to make this transition late, so practice at home so it doesn’t sneak up on you.

"Those of you who have not practiced the test at home will be alarmed by how little walking you do here before the trot transition. Be ready to not join the 99% of people who are late to pick up the trot." -PG

15. [X] Halt through the walk; salute

  • Make sure you show immobility for three seconds before exiting the arena.
  • Exit the arena free walk on long rein at [A]

Collective mark: Harmony of athlete and horse

"For me, this is a happiness mark. Was it a pleasant test to watch? Did the rider show the gaits to the full potential? The rider should show off the freedom of the horse's gaits through their ringmanship. Round off the corners and show the quality of the gaits." -PG

💡 YOU READ THAT RIGHT! Round off the corners rather than going too deep. Doing so will show off your horse's gaits and prevent them from getting "stuck" in the corners.

Want more help improving your dressage scores?

In addition to hundreds of listen-while-you-ride audio lessons with top coaches, the Ride iQ mobile app also includes Dressage Test Ride Alongs (top coaches ride the test along with you and share tips and guidance along the way) and Dressage Test Read-Throughs (a reader calls out the test in the time it takes to ride it – great to help with memorization!).

Sign up and start your Ride iQ 2-week free trial. You will have unlimited access to listen-while-you-ride audio lessons for all levels, dressage resources, exclusive podcasts, an online community with coaches and members, and more. All for $29.99/month after the free trial.

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